Step 1: Select a Book Prior to Tutoring Sessions

            Select a book that is at the ‘instructional level’ for the student. A book at the instructional level should not be too easy but should not frustrate. It should provide an appropriate level of challenge but also allow the reader to feel successful. This is based on the 90:10 rule, the idea that children benefit from practice if 90% is within their grasp and 10% is challenging (Dowrick et al., 2006).

            Students’ instructional levels can be based on assessment data or from their IEP objectives if they are receiving special education services. Another method of determining instructional level is to assess a student’s reading grade level and range with computer software (e.g. STAR Reading Assessment). A quick indicator of reading grade level can be found using the San Diego Quick Assessment (La Pray & Ramon, 1969), which can be freely downloaded from the internet. A simple way to determine whether a text is too challenging is to follow this rule of thumb: if the student is making 3 or more errors while reading words in a short paragraph, the text is probably too difficult.

Step 2: Set Up the Computer for Recording

Find a relatively quiet room or area of a classroom. Place the laptop on a table and have the student sit in front of the laptop. Though the laptop’s built in microphone can be used, a USB microphone or headset with microphone can pick up clearer audio. USB microphones cost about $20-$30. (You can also do these steps with a desktop computer that has a webcam.)

Launch the video editing software (such as iMovie on the Mac or MovieMaker on the Windows PC). Set up the recording by selecting the option that allows you to import video from the webcam, into the video editing software. [Refer to Video #2 at http://bit.ly/vsmvideo for a video tutorial of the editing process.] The student should be seated in front of the laptop’s camera. Frame the student so that he or she is in the center of the frame.  Be aware of the surroundings and create a nice backdrop if possible.  For instance, cloth can be used to cover up a stack of unsightly boxes or the laptop can be angled differently to capture a bright bulletin board in the background instead of a plain wall.

Step 3: Rehearse and Practice the Process

To familiarize the student with the technology and the procedures, practice the reading process before getting started. This step only needs to be done when you first introduce the intervention; it does not need to be repeated once the student is familiar with the processes.

 Describe what you will be doing and explain that you will be taking a video of the student that he or she will be able to view later. For some children, this can reduce the reticence, anxiety or shyness of doing something new. Some students react with fascination to seeing their video being recorded (on the laptop). In our experience, students quickly get used to being filmed and do not get as distracted by the video once they understand that they will be given the opportunity to watch what is filmed later. Practicing prior to the intervention can help to reduce the novelty of being filmed and help a child focus on other parts of the process.

This practice session also allows you to test the microphone and audio levels. You can coach the student to talk at a certain volume. Students benefit from watching the practice video to understand how they should speak in order to be audible on the video. The practice session also allows you to adjust related factors such as placement of the microphone.

Step 4: Select a Passage

            Select the passage within the book that will be read for that particular 30-minute tutoring session.  If you are working with short picture books, you might be able to read a full book with a student in one session. If your student is reading a chapter book, select a passage from the book for each session. Since each 30-minute tutoring session involves several activities (unison-reading, echo-reading, independent-reading, comprehension questions and vocabulary game), we recommend selecting a short passage from the book, one that takes no more than 3 or 4 minutes to read in unison. We recommend picking a selection of text that has a natural stopping point, then picking up where you left off at the next tutoring session. (Depending on the student’s reading ability and affinity for the reading process, you can select slightly shorter or longer passages for each tutoring session. We recommend short passages in order to maintain student engagement and interest. Since the student will be reading that one passage repeatedly in a session, it can get onerous to read anything longer.)

Step 5: Film the “Echo Reading” Portion of the Tutoring Session

            In Step II, you launched the video capture screen within the editing software and positioned the student in front of the camera. After you have completed the unison reading of the selected passage or book, you will begin recording the next part of the tutoring session, in which you echo-read with the student.

            Echo reading provides a simple way to provide a model of fluent reading. Since you will read first and the student will repeat what has been read, it is easy to edit out the adult voice later. Read each sentence (or portion of a sentence) modeling fluent and prosodic reading.  For passages that have long or complex sentences, it can be useful to read a portion of a sentence, stopping at a natural point such as a comma. If a sentence is too long, a student may have trouble remembering and repeating the whole sentence in the way it was modeled. You will get a sense of how much a student is able to manage as you start echo reading with the child. (Adjust how much you read as needed.) The student should be looking at the words on the page during the echo-reading, not repeating only from memory. [Refer to Video #1 at http://bit.ly/vsmvideo for a video overview of the steps described here.]

            During this recording process, you can be entirely off the screen, sitting beside the student. When the video is edited, you will edit out the portions of the video where your voice can be heard, creating a video in which only the student’s voice is heard. This edited video will be the one that the student watches at the start of the next tutoring session, one in which he or she is reading independently and without error.

            The video of the echo-reading process is filmed in one shot, without stops and starts. Errors or pauses are edited out. If the student makes an error during the echo reading process, you can prompt the student to repeat the sentence or word correctly. For instance, if the student stumbles on some part of a sentence, you can say “let’s try that sentence again” and restate that sentence correctly, giving the student another opportunity to repeat it fluently.

Step 6: Edit the Video

            After the tutoring session is completed, the student returns to the classroom.  Edit the recorded video, selecting only the portions of the video in which the student is reading. Edit out the parts of the video in which your voice, the scaffold, can be heard. The end result is a short video in which the student is reading sentences independently and fluently. This VSM video will be about 2 or 3 minutes long, depending on the length of the passage you selected.

Step 7: Student Watches the VSM Video

            At the start of the next tutoring session, the student watches the edited VSM video, in which he or she is fluently reading a passage. Rapid changes in the target skill, a documented effect of VSM, often occurs within two or three sessions. Some tutors may choose to create a new VSM video during every tutoring session, to be shown at the next session. Another option is to create a self modeling video during selected tutoring sessions, rather than in each session. The key is for the student to watch the VSM videos created at the start of each session, reinforcing the images of success with the target skill.

            Once the student gains proficiency with a target skill (e.g reading fluency), videos can be made portraying advanced skills (e.g. increasing reading rates) or other related skills (e.g. the student correctly answering comprehension questions about a passage read). In addition to using these VSM videos within the tutoring sessions, teachers can use the videos as part of the documentation of a student’s overall progress. The videos can become part of a student’s portfolio. We also share these videos with parents, who are often proud to see their child reading fluently.

Step 8: Gather Data on Student Progress

We recommend tracking progress using curriculum-based measurements.  For a reading intervention such as the one described above, fluency and reading comprehension probes can be used. These probes can be taken periodically, for example once every 4 tutoring sessions. Common reading fluency measures (e.g. DIBELS) record number of correct words read per minute (cwpm) and reading comprehension measures calculate number of correct responses (e.g. Accelerated Reader). You can also graph the results of curriculum-based measures to give the student a visual view of progress made.  In our experience with these projects, many students eagerly ask to see their progress on the graphs.


The University of Kansas prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, national origin, age, ancestry, disability, status as a veteran, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status, gender identity, gender expression, and genetic information in the university’s programs and activities. Retaliation is also prohibited by university policy. The following persons have been designated to handle inquiries regarding the nondiscrimination policies and are the Title IX coordinators for their respective campuses: Executive Director of the Office of Institutional Opportunity & Access, IOA@ku.edu, 1246 West Campus Road, Room 153A, Lawrence, KS 66045, 785-864-6414, 711 TTY (for the Lawrence, Edwards, Parsons, Yoder, and Topeka campuses); Director, Equal Opportunity Office, Mail Stop 7004, 4330 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Fairway, KS 66205, 913-588-8011, 711 TTY (for the Wichita, Salina, and Kansas City, Kansas, medical center campuses).